The summer meal site and mobile learning kitchen is reaching more youth than ever before.
The Lunchbox food truck is a free summer meal site and mobile learning kitchen operated in partnership by Green Mountain Farm-to-School (GMFTS) and the Abbey Food Service Group. The program aims to provide the community with healthy and locally-sourced meals throughout the summer months; children and teens 18 and under eat for free and adults are offered affordable meals for purchase. In just six weeks during the summer of 2019, the program exceeded the number of free meals that were distributed over a ten-week period the previous summer, distributing over 1800 free youth meals in Barton, Newport, and Derby, Vermont and breaking any previous records for the total number of meals served in one summer.
An expansion of days free meals are offered and a reevaluation of the summer meal site locations for the truck largely contributed to the hike in the number of free meals served. For the first time ever, GMFTS and the Abbey Group added Monday through Friday dinner services at North Country Union Junior High School in addition to the lunch services in Barton and Newport. “We’re thrilled that we’ve been able to reach so many children and teens with free meals this summer,” says Amrita Parry, Food Hub Accounts Manager at GMFTS, “this is an important part of GMFTS’s strategy to increase access to healthy, local food in the Northeast Kingdom.”
A popular Northeast Kingdom (NEK) soccer camp held at the fields located behind the Junior High School in Derby drew hundreds of hungry soccer players to the dinner site and helped ease stress for families looking for a healthy dinner option. “As a mother of children involved in sports, I know first hand how challenging it can be to get a healthy meal on the table during busy weeknights,” says Catherine Cusack, Executive Director at GMFTS, “I love that the Lunchbox is able to offer active children a free, healthy, locally-sourced alternative for dinner,” she says, “and that there are affordable meals for parents to purchase as well!”
One parent told GMFTS, “It’s been such a blessing having the Lunchbox at the Junior High during summer soccer. There’s a great menu selection, healthy choices, and best of all, it’s free for kids!”
Lunchbox menu items include Brault’s beef burgers served on whole-grain buns, chef salads featuring local greens and vegetables, and Kingdom Creamery Yogurt parfaits with whole-grain granola. Many of the ingredients used in Lunchbox meals are sourced from Green Mountain Farm Direct, a mission-driven food hub operated by GMFTS that aggregates and distributes food from over 25 local farmers and producers to schools, retailers, and institutions throughout Northern Vermont.
Another new addition to the Lunchbox this summer includes the piloting of a free vegetable give-away program. Twice in the summer of 2019, GMFTS staff brought surplus produce grown at local school gardens to the Lunchbox to give away to community members. Accompanying the vegetables were recipe cards with ideas on how to prepare the vegetables that are available. The success of this pilot demonstrates to GMFTS there is clear demand from the community for fresh produce. In households with tight food budgets, fresh, locally-grown produce is often out of reach. This vegetable giveaway program aims to ease the strain on food budgets and make healthy food more available to families. GMFTS looks forward to refining this program and offering it in the summer of 2020.
The Lunchbox food truck is a critical resource for many in the Northeast Kingdom who struggle to put healthy food on the table. One in four children in the region are food insecure and the region has the highest rates of diet-related disease in the state. Over 50% of students in the areas the Lunchbox reaches receive free and reduced lunches during the school year. When school is not in session, these students lose an important source of nutrition. By offering free summer meals to kids and teens, the Lunchbox is addressing this summer nutrition gap and helping to keep kids healthy so they can return to school in the fall ready to learn.
“Our hope is that these free summer meals coupled with our other programs, can help to move our community towards a healthier future,” says Cusack, “one in which our state’s farms are thriving and local residents have access to healthy, local food.”
The Lunchbox addresses Vermont Farm to Plate Network Goals 3 and 15 (Vermonters will exhibit fewer food-related health problems (e.g., obesity and diabetes and, All Vermonters will have access to fresh, nutritionally balanced food that they can afford.)
To learn more about the Lunchbox, visit www.gmfts.org/programs/the-lunchbox/.